Any professional writer, particularly when writing fiction in prose or screenplays, will tell you that it is not always easy to create good stories. I think this is especially true if you don’t have an outline, but then I’m not a “pantser” by nature. However, even with an outline, it’s easy to write your character into a situation in which you have no idea where to go next.
Since I don’t really believe in writers block, I think these tendencies to get stuck can be overcome in ways that may seem counterintuitive. I offer the following suggestions on how to get unstuck when you think you’ve hit the wall or written yourself into what seems like a corner.
- Set the project aside and work on something else for a while—by taking your mind off the plot problem you’re dealing with on one project and focusing on something else, you may find the answer coming to you subconsciously. Working directly on the problem may be forcing a solution into being. Allowing the answer to come to you while working on another project not only avoids a forced solution, but makes you more productive.
- Revisit the characters—when in doubt about how a story should unfold, go back to your character sketches. Ask yourself what you know about the characters and what they would do, if their backs were pressed to the wall. If you aren’t able to answer that question, you may need to focus on getting to know your characters better. If they’re well-developed, they should eventually come to life in your head and answer your questions, based on their needs and desires.
- Clean your office or organize your files—Agatha Christie once said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing dishes.” If you don’t have another serious project to work on, do something that can be handled almost on mental autopilot. It’s another way to distract yourself from your plot problem and let the solution suggest itself.
- Exercise or take a walk—too often, writers hunch over their keyboards, not stopping to take breaks. Exercise benefits your body and your mind. Every half hour, make a point of stopping to stretch, at the very least. Moving your body increases blood flow and relieves the stress of sitting and staring at a screen for hours. It also facilitates the thought process. I’ve solved many a plot problem while taking a walk.
Even if you can’t anticipate every move your protagonist will make in your story, I find it helps greatly to start with a general outline of story beats.
In this video, I discuss how I use Trello to organize my plots.
I offer courses on writing mystery fiction and story plotting on Udemy. (Click the links for more details.)